If you're looking for a not-so-traditional pastime this long holiday weekend, may I suggest a visit to the online Design and Violence project organized by MoMA? Perhaps I risk striking the wrong note there. But really, while it's just underway and will roll out over time, the online "curatorial experiment" is already quite good, and worth keeping an eye on as it develops.
My bias here: I couldn’t be more pleased to have had the opportunity to contribute an essay to Design and Violence, on the subject of 3D-printed guns. I have a long-time fascination with design and weaponry in general — see Barbara Eldredge’s Guns and Design if you do, too — but I’m also really interested in this Web-based exhibition as an example of how to explore the many varieties of “design” that don’t get as much attention as they should.
“Professional discourse” about design, the show’s About page contends, “has been dominated by voices that only trumpet design’s commercial and aesthetic successes.” I would extend that to include design’s “social” successes — the application of “design thinking” into non-commercial world-improvement contexts.
I’m not against trumpeting successes, obviously. And there are clearly exceptions to the rule that “professional discourse” equates design and virtue: Much has been written about, say, the swastika, and certain varieties of control-focused architecture. But I’d go along with the contention in this Dezeen writeup that to “probe the notion of design as an inherently benign discipline” is something “that is certainly overdue from the design establishment.”
Ten or 12 years ago, I would have found the idea of “design as an inherently benign discipline” completely baffling: Why would anybody believe such a thing?
But I think that's because, possibly more than anyone else who contributes to this site, I really am nothing more than an observer of design — I’ve never been a designer, I didn’t set out to write “design criticism” (and I suspect I still don’t write it, really). I was (and am!) just a journalist who is curious about many things. At some point those things started to intersect with “design.” Thus I backed into the discovery that a “design establishment” and “professional discourse” on the subject even existed.
By now, however, I’d definitely agree that a conspicuous amount of energy gets expended on pushing “design” as an idea to be celebrated, rather than an activity — like painting, writing, coding or governing — to be scrutinized. On some level this still baffles me, because in the long run it seems like such a limiting way to approach the subject.
So I’m excited to follow along as Design and Violence plays out online, and to see what conversations develop as new objects and essays are added. Because it's one thing for someone like me to grouse about where I think the discussion could or ought to go. But it's another, and far better, thing for an entity like MoMA to lead by example.
You can read my entry, and comment on it, here.
Home page image from by artistic bokeh on flickr.